Running Freedom is Not Free

June 3, 2010

…and just like that, spring has gone and summer has arrived. You could have fooled Portlanders – the rain and winter like temps have been rearing their ugly heads WAY too frequently for us to believe that those sunny days in between were anything but fluke accidents. But for those of us Portland residents that also happen to be Colorado natives, we know better. Sunny skies, crisp air. Perfect for running. We got the opportunity to ring in summer properly this past weekend with the running of the Bolder Boulder on Memorial Day. And for this little Portlander/Coloradan/Ultrarunner, I had the opportunity to kiss spring goodbye, ring in summer, celebrate freedom and embrace a sort of complete confinement, all at once….

The last race on my spring calendar was the Forest Park 50k; a 31+ mile traipse along my favorite trail in the HUGE urban forest – along Wildwood. I have been plotting this one for quite sometime as a chance to beat my time from February’s Hagg Lake Ultra — my first trail race, my first ultra, and the only the second (but surely the LONGEST) race that Derek and I have run together. When the opportunity to fly to Colorado to enjoy the Rockies revealed itself, I was faced with the conundrum of running in the rain on Memorial Day in Portland, or running in the sun in Boulder and celebrating an epic weekend, and freedom among other things, in Boulder with family and friends. What to choose….?! Ha!

So, I set my sights on running the Forest Park 50k course unsupported, on my own, the day before our flight to Colorado. (And the day after moving, no less.) I woke up early, fueled up, tied on my shoes and pulled up my arm warmers for a cold, rainy day on the trails and off I went.

The run went WELL. I made great time, and surprised myself with how easily I found a strong steady pace. Nutrition was excellent – my fistful of Perfect Foods Bars was delicious and sufficient, and, when coupled with my electrolyte supplements kept me bopping and weaving through trees, mud, and well into the depths of the forest. I didn’t need water support and rather carried everything I needed in my hydration pack. My feet didn’t start to feel like meatballs until I was about 28 miles in which is really saying something and I finished the course (as monitored by a map rather than a GPS) in 4:50 — a new personal record for me, and certainly a confidence booster for the Run Rabbit Run 50 miler that looms on the calendar in September. There is nothing so liberating, or empowering, as covering remarkable distances, completely self-powered and supported, with your own determination to guide you.

I pushed this course, this distance and I pushed HARD. Which was, of course, the goal. And I boarded our flight to Colorado, full of mac n cheese and glory.

I feel sincerely lucky to be a Coloradan, and to call Boulder home. And, I thought of this several times over as we flew over the Rockies, most especially when we were able to shed the rain jackets we put on in the wee hours in Portland (it was raining and in the 40’s when we departed) revealing shoulders and forearms that had screamed all winter (and spring) for the sun. Sun, blue skies, great food, family, friends, festivals and relaxation filled the weekend. The healthy, vibrant, active, easy-going vibe that fills the streets of my hometown on Memorial Day is completely contagious and we gobbled it up in quantity enough to last 4 or 5 summers….just in case the summer never really DOES come to Portland….

Memorial Day Monday is the centerpiece of the holiday weekend with the running of the Bolder Boulder. This is a race that has almost certainly been run (at one time or another) by nearly every resident of our little, yet constantly growing, town. And its a true symbol of the city; flags are flown on porches, military members run in cadence and townspeople run in remembrance of those whom have given their lives for America. The major thoroughfares through town become our stomping ground, epitomizing a completely different freedom – freedom from anyplace to be, anything to do as you couldn’t get there anyway. The course changes all the time and, along its history ran directly past my house, and Derek’s house, near friends and past special landmarks that will always be near and dear to our hearts. It had been 7 years since I ran it, and Derek and I had never had the joy of trotting it together so we were elated to be at the starting line and at the head of the pack this year.

Running shoulder to shoulder with my hubby, practically barefoot and loving it, we soaked up the experience along with the other 46,000 participants that wound around the course that day. It was SO much fun to do it together and even when my feet began to give me serious warning signs at mile 3, I kept moving along with joy. My shoulders loved the sun, my feet were free of shoes, and I couldn’t help but feel that those around me whose sole goal was to finish the 10k distance were growing increasingly proud of their accomplishments as we cruised towards the finish. Derek and I crossed the finish line hand in hand, beaming. But, as soon as I stopped, I knew that my race, my season, and my preconceptions of invincibility and freedom were over.

I am only MOSTLY invincible, it appears. I, like any human, do have boundaries, and it appears that I am not entirely capable of running like a madwoman all spring, barefoot or no, miles and miles and miles without feeling the physical effects of my efforts. Yoga, natural foods, plenty of sleep and a boatload of optimism aside. This last spring race through Forest Park was just enough to make my little feet vulnerable such that running freely (barefoot) was the last straw. I’m quite (as is my therapist/cousin Robyn) certain that I have some pretty severe tendonitis or a stress fracture in at least my left foot – an injury that will keep me wary of pounding for at least a few weeks to come (assuming that I stay off of it, heat, ice, and baby the damn thing). Its difficult to tell the exact source of the problem because my little toes are sausages and my waddling about presents symptoms of both.

No matter what, it is clear that I will be benched for a bit. Cycling and swimming will be allowed, but running – on trails or roads – is going to have to take a backseat for a bit. This little running free-bird has had her wings clipped….for now. Luckily for me, my races in Boise, and Lake Stevens have been cancelled due to business trips so I have until September to recover before the 50 mile race, and won’t race Ironman Cozumel until November.

As I stood in the stands at Folsom Field, balancing on meatball feet with little sausages attached, watching the elite women float towards the finish line with jaw-dropping grace and speed, tears came to my eyes. What better way to celebrate the freedoms that we enjoy as Americans, and truthfully as women, than with a run – bare shouldered, fast, unimpeded, and without gender discrimination. We American women are lucky to have the opportunity to be whatever we choose to be, to push our limits, to try on adventurous hats, and to be fast, impressive, powerful, and capable. It is a privilege to be able to RUN – one that I am feeling double now that this liberty, representative of so many other freedoms, has been taken away.

So, I sigh. And try to take this lesson in stride, just as I do that the others running and racing has presented to me. Traditionally, I am one that finds obstacles improve my performance because I am all the more to over come them. Losing your running shoes is one thing. But I have grown very accustomed to having the luxury of asking my body to meet challenges, to push limits and having my every wish granted. The freedom to run – like so many of our freedoms – is not FREE. And so, during this recovery, I will challenge myself to remember this fact, to not take my steps for granted, and to rather to celebrate and cherish each.

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